Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that’s good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. When I heard that Wilton Felder was back on the scene with his new release Let's Spend Some Time I just had to go to the archives and remind myself of the great music he has been producing since as far back as the early sixties. As well as checking out and loving his stellar sax playing with the Crusaders I was also captivated second time around by his wonderful 1985 long player Secrets that featured Bobby Womack. That said, listening to Let's Spend Some Time, it becomes immediately obvious that the years have done nothing to diminish his immense talent and his ability to play jazz saxophone with an edge. In fact the new CD is an impressive collaboration between Felder and trumpeter / flugelhorn player George Shaw who co-produces with Felder and co-writes eleven of the thirteen tracks.
Wilton Felder, Joe Sample and Stix Hooper met in Houston while still at high school. They moved to Los Angeles in the late fifties and there became the nucleus of The Jazz Crusaders, the band who pioneered jazz fusion for an entire listening generation. In a golden age that spanned 1971 through to 1990 they recorded, both as a group and as individuals, more than seventy five top selling albums and will perhaps be best remembered for the classic ‘Street Life’ that featured Randy Crawford. Throughout this time Felder continued to work as a sideman, most notably as a member of the Love Unlimited Orchestra and he also played with Steely Dan, Michael Franks, Marvin Gaye and Joni Mitchell. In addition he enjoyed considerable solo success. His 1980 album Inherit The Wind went to #4 on the Billboard Jazz Albums chart and the aforementioned Secrets peaked at #8. He continued to make his presence felt through the nineties with the Nocturnal Moods and Forever Always albums. Now, with Let's Spend Some Time, it’s just like he has never been gone.
The CD opens in impressive style with the mid tempo and funky ‘Smoke House’. Felder instantly finds an urban groove and George Shaw chips in nicely on flugelhorn for what is an essential slice of jazz funk. Talking of jazz funk there is no better example on the album than ‘Ooh Whop Doo Whop’. Deconstructed and funky this foot tapper is a real winner. The title track is urban jazz with a distinctly moody feel and when Felder and Shaw switch to mellow smooth R & B for the haunting ‘As Long As I’m With You’ they weave in nice vocals from the excellent AJ Luke. When, later in the album, the tune is reprised in instrumental form, Felder’s sax takes on the texture of velvet to create yet another of the CD’s many magic moments. Felder keeps it mellow with ‘The Love I Need’ but surpasses even what has gone before with ‘No One’. Laid back yet funky, romantic yet edgy, the vocals of AJ Luke blend perfectly with Felder’s picture perfect sax for a track that is sure to be a Secret Garden notable of 2006.
‘Information’ is big funky and urgent with a rap running through it while the very catchy ‘High Water’ stays tight and builds throughout. In fact tunes like these show off the ultra funky side of Felder’s nature but, in part, his real skill is to balance this with his more romantic but still soulful tendencies. Full of this latter quality comes ‘In The Moment’. With a romantic duet from Felder and Shaw as its centre piece, and underpinned by a rhythm that is reminiscent of Dave Grusin's best work, this is a song that never for one second becomes bland. ‘Where Love Comes From’ provides a suitably gentle end to the collection and ‘I Remember Chet Baker’ is ultra smoky and laid back. It starts out moody and atmospheric and stays right there. Probably the best track on the album is ‘Cruzin’. Like its title, this warm and mellow tune is brim full of feel good sunshine.
Let's Spend Some Time is a wonderful album and one of the contemporary jazz surprises of the year. If tracks like ‘No One’ can find a niche on smooth jazz radio then Wilton Felder could well be in for a major resurgence.Posted by Denis Poole at June 18, 2006 3:45 PM